Sunday, November 4, 2007

Face-to-face with Tutankhamun

Face-to-face with Tutankhamun

The BBC's Ian Pannell was among a small group of guests and journalists invited to watch Egypt's chief archaeologist, Dr Zahi Hawass, reveal King Tutankhamun's face to the public for the first time.

We were taken deep underground into a small chamber with a low roof and hieroglyphics painted onto an ochre-coloured wall on one side.

A group of workmen slowly opened the golden coffin and raised the mummy onto a wooden stretcher.

Until today, only about 50 living people had seen Tutankhamun's body. Suddenly there we were, face-to-face with the blackened, shrivelled body of the boy king.
It was a rare and incredible moment.

Dr Hawass is something of a media performer. He moved the mummy into its new Perspex cabinet and turned to the cameras, saying: "The only good part of the mummy that the public will be able to see is the face and the legs.

"But the most important thing is that from today the mummy will be completely saved from moisture, from humidity, from anything, and we can say that the mummy is going to be safe."
The mummy is in danger of being damaged by the heat and humidity from the thousands of tourists who visit his tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Kings.

As much as 20g of water collects in the underground chambers every day and when it evaporates, salt crystals are formed that in turn erode the tombs and all that lies within.
Although the treasures of Tutankhamun were moved to the Egyptian museum long ago, the mummy was not.

In the process of removing the jewellery, amulets and death mask, the remains of the boy king were badly damaged. Now the body is also threatened by the impact of the thousands of people who want to come and visit his tomb.

So on Sunday his remains were taken from his golden sarcophagus and put into a specially-designed climate-controlled case.
Iconic symbol

For generations, Tutankhamun has captured the public imagination around the world. Although he was only a minor royal in his day, it was the treasures discovered in his tomb that turned him into one of the iconic symbols of ancient Egypt.

At the turn of the 20th Century a team of US archaeologists rashly declared there were no new discoveries to be made in the Valley of the Kings. But British archaeologist Howard Carter refused to accept this and together with his team spent many years following clues around this crumbling valley.

On 4 November 1922 he discovered the first flight of stairs that would ultimately lead down to the tomb and the treasures of Tutankhamun.

More than 3,000 years after he died and 85 years after his tomb was discovered, King Tutankhamun still has the power to enthral. Now his fans will be able to come face-to-face with him for the first time.

No comments: